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Just before his 60th birthday, Will Turner set what he thought was the audacious goal of completing six Ironman races in a year to mark the milestone. Turner, of Richmond, Virginia, had completed just one long distance triathlon at that point, and figured multiplying that by six in just 365 days would be a major accomplishment. So, he quietly revealed his plan to a friend, who then mentioned that someone in their running club had recently done the same.
“That made me realize that maybe I wasn’t setting my sights high enough,” Turner recalled. “I needed something that scared the crap out of me.”
So Turner went big—60 Ironmans in one year big. With the support of his partner, Chris Destefano, Turner hashed out a plan that would allow them to travel the country, chasing warm weather in a camper they call “Epic” and complete an average of 1.5 Ironman-distance triathlons each week. Some would be actual races. Many would be solo endeavors in which he’d log the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run in succession–and under 17 hours–at a location of his choosing. And, with Destefano serving as the defacto sherpa, race photographer, and chauffeur, Turner was able to race, recover–and even squeeze in some work during his downtime.
“Since I work for myself, I have flexibility,” Turner said, a triathlon coach and co-founder of the company RefuseOrdinary, which offers sales and leadership strategies. “All while traveling over 130,000 miles, all the way from the east coast to Denali, Alaska and Whistler, Canada–some of the most beautiful spots in the country.”
When Turner hit the magical mark of 60 in early 2019–smashing the former world record of 44 in the process (the record will remain unofficial, however, as Guinness World Records requires two independent witnesses at every event, which Turner could not provide)–he decided he just didn’t want to stop. After all, he’d amassed a strong following on social media and thrived on the interaction among those invested in his journey. So he kept going. In late December 2019, Turner notched his 105th Ironman-distance effort, with his last five completed over just eight days.
“After I completed 100 Ironmans, I wanted to end the journey really giving it everything I had when nothing else was expected of me,” Turner said. “This entire adventure was about being bold and pushing limits, and there is something to be said for going out with a bang.”
While Destefano’s stunning images of Turner tucked into aero position, whipping through Big Sur or the Grand Tetons are aspirational, the adventure admittedly was not easy–especially because he was out there alone most of the time. His efforts completed just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner was already navigating the challenge of competing virtually, and on his own.
“Being out there alone requires more mental stamina and grit,” he said. “But eventually, I discovered that there are added benefits beyond just the physical demands. Stepping outside that comfort zone is the best way to push yourself, learn, and grow.”
Through it all, Turner managed to avoid injury from overuse by relying on a strict recovery routine, including proper fueling, stretching, and ample sleep. But, he admits, the constant pounding and pushing during his races were physically painful–and mentally taxing.
“There are times when you have to use all of your resolve to move forward,” Turner said. “And if you are able to get past that point, it can be transformative. That’s what continued to motivate me. It’s not that I have special athletic ability. My superpower is just having the grit to push through.”
After his final Ironman effort, Turner turned his attention toward other aspects of life. He danced his daughter, Crandall, down the aisle at her North Carolina wedding in January. He published a coffee table book, Journey to 100, filled with Destefano’s photos and his first-person accounts about the locations he swam, biked, and ran through–mostly national parks stretching across the U.S. and Canada–as well as insight on the journey itself. And while he’s no longer logging two-mile swims, 100-plus mile rides, and 26.2-mile runs every few days, Turner is still training frequently, just so that he’ll be ready for future adventures, whatever they be–and whenever they may arise.
“No doubt, I will find new adventures and seek out new challenges that intrigue and scare me,” he said. “This accomplishment, while a treasured, once-in-a-lifetime experience, is only the icing on the cake of the overall journey. It is the journey that provides the magic. And the journey never truly ends.”
Will Turner’s Typical Race Day
5:00 a.m. Wake up; bathroom/brush teeth, put on swim gear and sweatshirt
5:15 a.m. Load car with race gear, head to swim venue with Chris
5:20 a.m. Focus on day ahead with mindful moments and gratitude
5:30 a.m. Drink Perpetuem or Gatorade and eat banana and muffin on way to swim
5:45 am. Arrive at swim venue
6:00 a.m. Start swim
7:20 a.m. Finish swim, rinse and dry off
7:25 a.m. Change into bike gear and take in nutrition
7:35 a.m. Jump on bike
11:30 a.m. Take a bathroom/lunch break
11:40 a.m. Resume bike leg
2:30 p.m. Park bike with Chris, change into running gear
2:40 p.m. Take in more nutrition before the run
2:45 p.m. Start the run
6:00 p.m. Take a bathroom/dinner break/change clothes if necessary (warm gear/dry gear)
6:15 p.m. Resume the run leg
7:55 p.m. Finish run
8:00 p.m. Drink large recovery drink (Chocolate Endurox R4 with almond milk)
8:10 p.m. Take a long, warm shower and do light stretching
9:00 p.m. Organize and pack up gear
10:00 p.m Go to sleep